Interview with Representative James Clyburn

Interview with Representative James Clyburn

By The Situation Room - May 14, 2012

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

The number three Democrat in the House of Representatives differs somewhat with President Obama on the issue of gay marriage.

James Clyburn welcomes the president's support, but feels it doesn't go far enough.

Representative Clyburn is joining us now from his home state of South Carolina.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Tell us why you believe the president does not go far enough in his declaration saying that he personally supports gay marriage?

CLYBURN: Well, thank you so much for having me, Wolf.

I don't disagree with the president. What I said was and I genuinely feel that, as a 71-year-old growing up -- having grown up here in South Carolina, I can remember when marriage between two people of different races was not allowed in South Carolina.

But it was allowed in other states. So I think that when you have something like this, you have to be very careful that you don't have a state-by-state approach that could very well have people jumping across state lines, having people's conditions changing late in life, and finding out that they're in the state where certain things may not be recognized and it could have very severe legal consequences going forward.

So I just think we need to really look at this issue, study it very well, and be very, very careful how we implement it.


BLITZER: Because I just want to make it clear -- Congressman, I just want to make it clear, the president, in announcing his support for same-sex marriage, said this was a personal view but it should be left up to the states.

You disagree with him on that. You believe this should be a federal issue not left up to the states because you see it as a civil rights issue; is that right?

CLYBURN: Yes, it is personal with me as well.

And so -- civil rights are very personal with me as well. So if we are going to say this is in fact a civil rights issue, then it ought to be an issue for all Americans, not just based upon what state you might live in. That's what I'm talking about.

We have been down that road, where my rights here in South Carolina were different from rights in, say, a New York or Pennsylvania. I don't think that we can tread too lightly here. We have got to be very, very careful of how we put these kinds of issues together.

Look, I just signed the amicus brief on DOMA, Defense of Marriage Act, because I want the federal courts to rule that law that I voted for several years ago, but have evolved to the point where I am today. So I am all for the federal courts determining that to be unconstitutional. That's why I signed that.

I supported President Clinton's position some years ago when it came to don't ask, don't tell. I voted against don't ask, don't tell last year last year or whenever it was because I had evolved to that point. This is an issue that all of us know that's been challenging all of our lives. I'm a preacher's kid, born and raised in the...


CLYBURN: But I have been married to the same woman for 51 years.

So we all are difficult in how we approach this. And I just think that we have to be very careful that we don't tread on people's rights.

BLITZER: Well, Congressman, it raises the issue because as you well know -- and you're in South Carolina -- and a lot of African-American ministers, pastors this past Sunday, they were speaking out against the president's support for same-sex marriage.

Here's a blunt question. If the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today, today, where would he stand on the issue of same-sex marriage?

CLYBURN: I think Dr. King would have evolved, much like President Obama has evolved, much like I have evolved.

Al Sharpton, a lot of us have evolved on this. I don't believe that at the time that Dr. King passed away or was taken from us that he was then where I am today. I just don't believe that. I don't remember him ever addressing this in any of his writings or speeches, but I believe that all of us grow

I think it was Thomas Jefferson who once said one should not be expected to wear the same jacket as a man that he wore as a child. That's the way I feel. And I think that I have grown to a different size jacket today when it comes to this question.

BLITZER: Will you introduce legislation in the House of Representatives that would allow same-sex marriage to go forward across the country?

CLYBURN: Well, once again, I'm not going to do anything willy-nilly.

I'm going to sit down with members. I would hope that it's an issue that could be dealt with in a bipartisan way. But there's a big difference in us doing something in statute and something being determined constitutionally.

That's why I signed the amicus brief, because I want this issue addressed by the judicial body that will get the opportunity to determine what I may or may not have done is in fact constitutional. That's -- I'm big for health reform. And now we all sit and wait with bated breath to see what the Supreme Court is going to do about the constitutionality of that.

So it's one thing to do something statutorily. It's something else for the constitutionality to be determined. I just think that this is an issue that we have to read very lightly when we're dealing in it.

BLITZER: Hey, Congressman, thanks as usual for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

CLYBURN: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

BLITZER: Jim Clyburn is the assistant Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. 

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